When we visited the new Centraal Museum in Utrecht a few weeks ago. we had a chance to try a couple of ‘zig-zag’ chairs after Gerrit Rietveld. As she sat down Sandra said jokingly: “Well, this is comfortable, can you make one of these for me?”
Often when someone asks me if I can copy something from a store I answer: “Off course I can, but I don’t.” Because often it isn’t worth the effort or – in the end – will be more expensive than what the store asks for it. But sometimes it just starts to itch, and I have to give it a try.
The same thing with this little chair. Rietveld initially designed it as a joke, an etude for his ideal of a chair that could easily be produced, cheap and without unnecessary frills. His whole career he searched for a chair design that could be made by a machine, out of one sheet of material.
The zig-zag was designed in 1934 for the inventory of the Schröder house. As a material Rietveld used wooden boards of the ‘Bruynzeel’ factory. One of the first examples of factory made board material, staves of pine were glued together to make wide boards. Initially meant for their own line of kitchens, but quite popular among furniture makers and carpenters.
Over the years thousands of copies of this chair have been produced. The Italian Cassina corporation has the commercial rights to it. They make the chairs a bit different to the originals, with dowels instead of nuts and bolts.
With this system there is no need for nuts and bolts. Originally they were used as clamps during gluing. I wanted to keep the working methods close to the original, so used some M5 nuts and machine screws.
My own take.
As I never slavishly copy anything, this little chair also had to be a little bit different from its relatives. So reclaimed wood (an old pine kitchen table) and pyrotechnics to roughen up the boards. The old Japanese technique of Sh0u-sugi-ban or Yakisugi where boards are charred and roughed up with a wire brush before an oil finish is applied. This heat treatment makes the wood more durable, less prone to pests and more fireproof…
This technique really lets the wood grain pop out. The soft summer wood is removed from the surface, but the harder winter wood remains. It adheres to my earlier “It’s a Wooden Chair”-project, in which I wanted to show that Rietveld’s chairs are in fact made of wood.
The edges were charred after the chair was completed. The wood oil is absorbed by the carbon and binds it to the chair. So it doesn’t come off when you touch it, and it won’t stain your clothes…
I made this project rather quick and a bit rough for my normal standards. But it correspondents quite nicely to the original chairs by Gerard van de Groenekan. After all, a chair isn’t a precision instrument. Its basic function is to provide a parking space for your ass. It is an object that will be used and wear over time.